STRESS can kill you – with even low levels dramatically increasing the risk of a fatal heart attack or stroke, experts warn.
A quarter of adults in Britain admit they suffer stress.
But latest research found that stress can increase the risk of dying by as much as 20 per cent.
Researchers have long known that symptoms of anxiety or depression – called psychological distress – can increase the risk of death from illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.
But now they warn the risk is even higher among those who are stressed out.
Dr Tom Russ, Alzheimer Scotland clinical research fellow at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We found psychological distress was a risk factor for death from all causes, cardiovascular disease and external causes – the greater the distress, the higher the risk.
“However, even people with low distress scores were at an increased risk of death.”
Previous studies probing links between psychological distress and dying have been too small to reliably measure the risk.
Researchers analysed data from 68,000 people aged over 35 who took part in the Health Survey for England from 1994 to 2004.
They measured the role anxiety and stress played in deaths from all causes, including heart disease and even cancer, over eight years.
Psychological distress was calculated using a scale ranging from no symptoms to severe, and death certificates were used to record the cause of death.
Dr Russ said: “If you score one, two or three on this scale you may be suffering some form of social dysfunction or loss of confidence but your GP will not diagnose you with psychological distress.
“But the risk of death among this group of the population from cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attacks and stroke, and external factors such as accidents or suicide rose by an average of a fifth. For those at the highest end of the scale with severe symptoms of anxiety and depression the risk almost doubled.”
Dr David Batty, from University College London, said: “These associations also remained after taking into account other factors such as weight, exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption and diabetes.”
The study is published online in the British Medical Journal.